forgetting about freedom
It wasn’t until late this morning that I realized the opening of July had already happened, and there’s a significant holiday around that time. I checked the radio clock that came with my dorm room: Five of its little, liquid-crystal elements were firing in the pattern behind this text, indicating that Independence Day 2007 was already history. (Fireworks imagery by Jeff Blackburn.) This is the third year in a row in which I’ve been outside of the United States on her birthday, so I guess I can’t be too surprised that I forgot. And I don’t access the Internet all that often—once per day or less—so an embarrassing reminder from Facebook wasn’t possible, either.
Homer Simpson once complained that back in his day, he had to trudge tiresome, uphill miles through the snow to the Internet. Tokyo is warm right now, and it’s pretty flat where I am, so I have it easier than Homer did. And even though I have to go out of my way to find the Internet here, that isn’t the main obstacle in my path to posting blaug updates. What has erected itself before me like an ACME just-add-water brick wall is a sudden change in the amount of time I have for personal use.
Today is a day off from work, which I was given so that I could pick up my alien registration card. Thankfully I get two of those
Koganei’s welfare and community center. One of my two Internet spots.
a week (no, not registration cards). But on each of the other five days, I have a somewhat grueling schedule of nine to 11 hours at work and three hours commuting. On the train rides I’ve started reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which is a great way to pass the time. The trains are too crowded for me to use my computer—sometimes there isn’t even enough space to glance over a piece of paper. So whether it makes sense mathematically or not, I end up with somewhere between
Inside the above building.
zero and two free hours on a workday. Since I don’t possess the alchemic skills necessary to turn zero hours into productive time, I expect that I’ll be challenged by this schedule until I get used to it, or it somehow changes.
Even if there are things that I can’t get done, I still must be doing something all day long, right? Of course. I don’t desire for this blaug entry to reach the length of those from two years ago, but I’ll try to fill you in on what’s happened.
I’m working as an intern for a Tokyo-based company called Sato Photo Co., Ltd. that photographs ceremonial occasions, which means primarily weddings. Together with the Imperial Hotel in central Tokyo, this company started the trend of hosting photo studios in hotels, which is a popular wedding site in Japan. The hotel at which I’m stationed is Conrad Tokyo, which is in a district called Shiodome (slightly south of the Imperial Hotel). Go there and you will see several modern-looking buildings thrusting toward the heavens, all of which were built within the last five years. It’s really quite magnificent, and I can’t wait to take some photos of it.
(I have to shrewdly select what I’ll take on the train with me each day, and so far my somewhat bulky camera hasn’t made it. Hopefully soon.)
My workplace, however, is a small, windowless office squeezed into the corder of our photo studio that I share with two other people. My main activity there so far has been putting together albums of photos taken by my boss and coworkers. On weekends I have been learning about and assisting with the studio photography (as opposed to photos taken during the ceremony and reception) as much as possible. It’s a lot to take in at once, with both new Japanese terminology and lots of technique to remember. The studio photography is almost all done on film with old-style cameras, so I’m getting kind of a history lesson, too.
While starting all of that, I also had Tokyo’s train system to get used to. It was a bit of a shock at first, being crammed into a train car so full of people that I’m almost standing on the people next to, in front of, and behind me. I’ve since learned how to catch the trains strategically so that I can find a seat and read during the long rides.
My experience with the trains had very humble beginnings, though. On my first day, going back home, I was riding without a guide for the first time. The instructions that I was given along with the foreign train system confused me, and I made a mistake. At one point I left the platform for the train I needed and went to a different one. Although I didn’t know that I was on the wrong platform, I knew that I was confused, so I asked a station employee which train would take me back to Koganei. He gave me a simple answer: The next train goes to Chiba, and the one after that goes to Koganei. But I misunderstood him to say: The next train goes to Chiba, and then to Koganei. Whoops.
The biggest problem is that I was very far from Chiba at that point, and I didn’t know it. As I boarded the wrong train and tried to read the map on the ceiling, I couldn’t find Chiba. As the train kept going and going in the wrong direction, I asked several passengers if in fact the train was going to Chiba. Yes, it was, they all said. I didn’t have enough confidence to get off and try again, and I didn’t know how Chiba was written in Japanese (it’s 千葉, which means “1000 leaves”), so I couldn’t figure out from the map how far away it was. I’ve since estimated that it’s about 45 miles away from Koganei along the tracks, and that’s a lot when the train is stopping at every station.
The stations closest to my dorm and my work, and then Chiba. I was at Mitaka when I boarded the wrong train.
So yes, I do feel like an idiot, but I’ve learned a lot. Now I know the train system quite well, and it already feels pretty normal to be riding along with herds of other people.
It’s surprising how much space it can take for me to say so little when I’m not careful. It really should stop here. Later, if I can, I’ll tell you about the fun day I had with my host mom and a couple of other friends from Hakodate. If I can’t, then oh well. I’m trying not to get lost underneath the unrealistic hope of sharing everything. But I have managed to take a few more pictures, so have a look.
The peep hole on my door is kind of far down there.
The laundry facilities at my dorm. There are dryers, amazingly, but I’ve been warned not to use them, as they can be harmful to clothing.
The view from the big window upstairs.
An intersection near my dorm. The road second from the right leads home, and the one on the left leads to the commercial area.
The beginning of the commercial area.
Conveyor sushi (left), so close to where I live! Sushi is really easy to find here.
Inside the orange building above.
The menu had “Chicken Teriyaki” on it, so I ordered it, and this is what I got. Quite different from any teriyaki or sushi I’d ever had.
Continuing my search for real teriyaki, I got this from the supermarket. The label reads “Mackerel Teriyaki.” Also very different.
“Yakisoba Dog.”
But not before!
At work, kind of posing randomly. My boss photographed me.
Then he had me change my pose and recomposed the shot. Much better!
Thursday, 2007 July 5